, Salem, MA

September 3, 2013

Our view: Time of transition for Temple Shalom

The Salem News

---- — Many in Salem were saddened to learn that the city’s only Jewish temple is expected to close next year.

Temple Shalom, founded as the Sons of Jacob, has been an integral part of city life here for more than a century, and its red-brick building on Lafayette Street has been a spiritual and cultural home to generations of local residents.

But a dwindling congregation and declining revenues have taken their toll. The congregation tried its best to attract new families, with everything from music nights to Torah discussions, but it wasn’t enough. Then, a major flood a few years ago caused extensive damage, requiring more than $50,000 in repairs. Eventually, the membership decided that continuing on was not an option; they put the building up for sale recently and are exploring a merger with another congregation on the North Shore.

It is a story familiar to people of many faiths on the North Shore. Episcopal churches in Danvers and Peabody — each more than 100 years old — merged last year as a way to control costs with smaller congregations. Roman Catholic churches throughout the North Shore have been closed or merged as a way to deal not only with financial burdens, but with a shortage of priests. And there are other local churches with tiny congregations still struggling to find a way to survive; some will not succeed.

Times change, and people’s commitments to various religious institutions change with them. And as society has become more mobile, the need to have a church or synagogue close at hand has waned. Now, many of these buildings are a financial burden to their congregations.

That doesn’t mean people don’t love the spaces that have meant so much to them in the times that matter most in their lives — births and deaths and weddings, times of tragedy and of joy. Those on the North Shore who have lost their religious homes already know how painful that can be.

Salem’s Jewish residents will surely find a welcoming congregation elsewhere on the North Shore, and in time that will seem like home. But the city will be poorer without Temple Shalom, and we’ll be sorry to see it close.